A Journey Beyond your Imagination
BY Stephan Sookram
Lethem is an exhilarating place to be as a first timer. Moreso, Lethem at Rodeo time. The town comes alive, the hustle and bustle of not only cowboys and cowgirls but of shops and craft makers, makes for a busy week of fun and entertainment.
However, for us over at tourism Guyana, the fun started with the long drive there.
Anywhere from eight to twelve hours is what it takes to complete the trail from the town of Linden to Lethem. Those who constantly do the trail, bus drivers and miners alike, advised- ‘Mek sure yuh got spare wheel and jack.’
So, in our checklist, a spare and jack were at the top of the list. Also on that list were fluids and other orthodox items required to ensure our vehicles keep moving, and others intended for food and safety including a shovel, a pair of cutlasses and a hatchet. Afterall, it is a trail through dense rainforest with one pickup and two Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV).
With vehicles packed and everyone comfortably seated, we departed Durban Street, Georgetown one hour later than planned at 3:00h on the morning of Tuesday, April 12, 2022. The exuberance of the impending drive provided more than enough adrenaline to push us through the blankets of sleepiness which threatened to overtake us.
The first leg of the journey from the Capital City of Georgetown to the mining town of Linden got off to an uneventful start with the exception of short distances on the road which required the use of affixed auxiliary lighting, equipped specially for that purpose.
Just over one hour later, we rolled into Hinds Gas station, commonly known as the ‘gateway to the interior’ and what is basically a last fuel point for the next 58 miles or 93 kilometres. The total length of the journey will be 459 miles or 738 kilometers, passing through four of Guyana’s ten (10) administrative regions.
The change of terrain from that point onwards was immediate, forcing us to drive slowly as our wheels rushed through stretches of loom mixed with overnight rains to create slushes across the road. Further, large craters left by pools of water and washed away sections of the road coupled with the poor lighting at dawn required us to be extra cautious.
Equipped with hand-held radios, we ensured each other was in high spirits despite little sleep the previous night.
Halfway to our next stop, we were able to witness the most beautiful sunrise above the trail and forest on both sides. Of course, this was an opportunity for the photographers to get their best lens out.
Following traditional team photos and the opportunity to stretch our legs, we were on our way again.
It is not difficult for such long trips to get mundane as we looked around the next bend for our next stop. Alas, there it was, the GUYOIL Gas station sign at number 58 representing the end of the second leg of our journey and an ability to refuel not only our vehicles but our bodies as well.
The Tourism Guyana team is accustomed to traveling the length and breadth of Guyana, but the journey never ceases to amaze us; from the scenery to the excellent strangers we meet along way to the fresh air found outside of the busy Capital City, it is always a treat.
We were given a lot of time to enjoy the fresh air and warm climate when just ten (10) minutes away from the gas station, one of the vehicles encountered mechanical problems. The welcoming trait of Guyanese on a trail though, meant each passersby stopped and tried to render assistance as the Pickup refused to restart.
It took some inspections to figure out that there was an electrical problem we were ill-equipped to handle. In a village with two electricians Ðone called James who said he was three hours away and Justin who had an even longer wait time. So therein began our wait because Guyanese in the forested areas we refer to as ‘bush’usually means longer than they average. We say ‘in the bush, two hours could mean six.’
Several hours were then filled with bouts of eating, games and fun drinks before the team of six decided to split and go in search of a bus driver who promised to transport one of the Electricians from a ‘landing’by the river side back to our location.
There, we were greeted with the sad news that though hours had passed, the auto-electrician was nowhere to be seen. So, with sunken spirits, we travelled back to our vehicles.
True to his word and that of many who recommended him, with a little bit of improvising,James had us back on the road. In a place where shops are far and few, a bottle of XM Rum paid for the desperate fix.
A full six hours behind schedule and decently tired from the night before, we set off again, this time carrying a fast pace to try to make up for lost time. But less than half an hour into that, the problem re-occurred, and this time at a more remote location lacking proper phone signal. This time, even James could not figure out what went wrong.
Short and stocky and clad in a slipper and a vest, we were greeted by our second auto-electrician mentioned to us earlier in the form of Justin. It seems common to go by either first names or false names in these remote areas.
Making himself at home in the bonnet of the pickup and joking about the possibility of him riding there to keep things in place, he managed to fix wires which became loose from the rough terrain.
Tired eyes, sweaty bodies and a long road still ahead, we proceeded for about thirty (30) minutes to one of the major checkpoints at Mabura before moving to even worse terrain; this part of the road leads from Mabura to the Kurupukari crossing across the Essequibo River.
Fading light and invisible potholes which soon became craters in the road and then swatches of areas where the water washed away parts of the top soil,truly tested our driving skills before we reached to the crossing.
Sadly, when we arrived there just after seven, they had closed for the evening.
We had no choice but to lick our wounds and return to the Track Eco-Lodge which was fifteen (15) minutes away, to spend the night. Our one-day trip to Lethem had become two but we were able to get our much-needed rest.
The stay at the lodge became a blessing in disguise as the team had the chance to view the resort being developed by Naveen Seereram and family provided us with a hugely rewarding insight of what Guyana has to offer and how beautiful she is.
One lost valve stem later, a tour of the lodge, offloading of a vehicle to change a tire, repacking of the vehicle and some minor fixes led us to a mid-day crossing and on our way to an Indigenous village called Annai. There, wheels were changed and we were back on the trail but again, we were losing day-light on our second day.
Speeding down the trail into the savannahs which quickly changes from beautiful mountains you do not see in the most populated areas of Guyana, to large swaths of beautiful flat lands covered in giant termite nests and luscious grassland, the excitement returned. Feet planted on the gas, somewhere along that winding pathway, in that setting sun along the mountain backdrop, we realized that half the fun of Lethem isn’t actually in the town of Lethem, it’s the trail drive in getting there.
A 12-hour journey that took us two days provided us with more than enough adventure and excitement until next year again. Rolling into the town which is on the border with Brazil, a few tears were shed for a team that braved the trail and were prepared to do it again.